Director Mike Binder has made a decent living telling stories of intimate relationships. Whether it’s two lovers, friends, or husbands and wives, Binder relishes in breaking them apart only to bring them back together once again. His latest film, “Reign Over Me,” finds him in rare form in arguably his strong work to date.
Dentist Alan Johnson (Don Cheadle) has his own set of problems but is coping well when he spots his old college roommate, Charlie Fineman (Adam Sandler), on the streets of Manhattan. Awhile back, Johnson read that Fineman lost his entire family on Sept. 11, 2001 and had been trying to contact him offering support. When he finally catches up with Fineman again, Johnson is shocked that he doesn’t recognize him.
Fineman is suffering severe post-traumatic stress and has blocked out any memories of his deceased family and completely isolated himself from anyone from his past that reminds him of that lost connection. He spends his days redecorating his kitchen and his nights jamming on his drums to Bruce Springsteen records or playing video games – subordinate clause]. Apparently, he too was a dentist but gave up his practice. He now survives off of the settlement he received because of the death of his family, which is managed by his accountant and former best friend, Bryan Sugarman (Binder).
While Fineman is dealing with his demons, a dissatisfied Johnson works at his dental practice living a mundane existence. Confusion comes into his life when one of his patients, the unbalanced Donna Remar (Saffron Burrows), offers him oral gratification during a routine examination. A stunned and uncomfortable Johnson orders her out of his office, only to be served several days later with a lawsuit alleging sexual harassment. The embarrassment and potential financial implications create an uncomfortable situation at his office.
If Johnson isn’t dealing with enough, his lovely wife, Janeane (Jada Pinkett Smith) is having trouble communicating with him, and the too are slowly growing apart. It doesn’t help that her husband is spending more and more time with grief-stricken and slightly off-balance Fineman. The two wounded souls and old friends renew their friendship and in the process both men learn to cope with the cold and unfair consequences that life presents.
Johnson decides that Fineman needs help and turns him on to his therapist, Angela Oakhurst (Liv Tyler). Eventually, he opens up and unburdens himself in one of the film’s most tender and emotionally charged scenes.
Critics praised Sandler’s last dramatic performance in 2002’s “Punch Drunk Love,” but that film’s failure at the box office seemed to sour him from delving into more dramas. In this film as well as “PDL,” Sandler effectively plays flawed individual suffering loss, while looking for a shred of hope. He and Cheadle acting together are like watching two skilled chess players, not necessarily thinking, but instinctively making all the right moves. The two of them are a delight to watch as they take filmgoers simultaneously from “joy and pain” to “sunshine and rain,” all inside this thought-provoking drama.
9/11 was this generation’s Pearl Harbor, not only for New Yorkers but for the entire nation. “Reign On Me” is a fitting bookend to Spike Lee’s incredible “25th Hour,” capturing how that tragedy continues to affect filmmakers and audiences.